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The Headcovering
Doug Savin

Brother Doug Savin is a minister in the Toronto, Ontario, Canada, congregation.

The church practice of the headcovering has been one of controversy ever since I can remember, and for many years before that, I am sure. One reason for that, of course, is a lack of understanding of that teaching as laid out in I Corinthians 11. What brings about some of the confusion is the way the King James Version translates the Apostle Paul’s letter the Greek language in which it was originally written. What further complicates matters is that some take this chapter to be directed only to the Corinthian church. Let us analyze that chapter in context of the whole Scripture to eradicate any doubt as to what it really means.

Does this teaching apply to us today?

Firstly, the Apostle starts the chapter by praising the church for keeping the ordinances that he had given them either verbally while he was present with them, or perhaps by another epistle that we are not aware of. 

“Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ. Now I praise you, brethren, that ye remember me in all things, and keep the ordinances, as I delivered them to you.” (vv 1-2).

Paul then continues by stating in global terms the hierarchy of God’s authority as ascribed to Himself, given to His Son, and finally to the man and the woman.

But I would have you know, that the head of every man is Christ; and the head of the woman is the man; and the head of Christ is God.” (v 3).

The fact that he speaks in such universal terms of God being the head of Christ, Christ being the head of every man (also see vv 4-5) and man being the head of the woman, rejects the idea that this is speaking to only the men and women of the Corinthian church, and for that era in history only. Secondly, Paul’s use of the word “every” and the definite article “the” indicate that he was not speaking to their (Corinthian) believers only. Once again it is a global concept. God has never ceased to be the Godhead; Christ has never ceased to be the head of the man; and, unless told otherwise, the man has never ceased to be the head of the woman. Based on the above facts, it must be concluded that chapter 11 of I Corinthians applies to the church even today.

What does it mean for the head to be covered?

Having established that this Scripture applies to us today, let us move on to the teaching on the headcovering. 

“Every man praying or prophesying, having his head covered, dishonoureth his head. But every woman that prayeth or prophesieth with her head uncovered dishonoureth her head: for that is even all one as if she were shaven. For if the woman be not covered, let her also be shorn: but if it be a shame for a woman to be shorn or shaven, let her be covered.” (vv 4-6).

The Greek word used in verse 5 for uncovered is akatakaluptos, which simply means “unveiled or uncovered”. This word is derived from the Greek word katakalupto, which means (according to Strong’s Concordance) “to cover wholly, veil, cover, hide”. The implication here is that the woman’s head is to be fully covered. This may go totally against the grain of today’s practice, but that is what the Scripture says. The only other alternative is to shave the head, as stated in verse 6. This would be a foolish thing, because that would be a rejection of God’s gift to the woman to make her look beautiful (see v 15). It is clear that verses 4, 5, and 6 state that if a man prays or prophesies with his head covered, he dishonors his head, which is Christ. It is also clear that if the woman does the same with her head uncovered, she dishonors her head, which is the man. The word for dishonor here (according to Strong’s) is kataischuno, which literally means to shame down: i.e., disgrace or (by implication) put to the blush.

Does this teaching only apply to married women and married men?

Now when the Scriptures speak about the woman dishonoring her head, it does not limit it to married women. That is, although the word for man here is aner, and could mean (cf. Strong’s) any one of “fellow”, “husband”, “man”, or “sir” depending on the context in which it is used, it must be taken as simply man, whether married or single. The reason for this is that verse 4 would not then apply to unmarried men if the word referred simply to husband. What the Apostle Paul was saying through the Holy Spirit was that because the woman in general is to be submissive to the man, she should have her head covered during worship. This agrees with the same idea that the woman (female) is not to usurp authority over the man when it comes to teaching in the church: “Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection. But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence. For Adam was first formed, then Eve.” (I Timothy 2:11-13). 

Notice again that the Apostle Paul invokes God’s order of creation and hence authority. Nowhere in the Scripture passage of I Corinthians 11 does it say that only the married woman was to wear the headcovering as a sign of subjection to her husband. We have erroneously assumed that it was just referring to the husband.

Why should not man cover his head during prayer or worship?

“For a man indeed ought not to cover his head, forasmuch as he is the image and glory of God: but the woman is the glory of the man. For the man is not of the woman; but the woman of the man. Neither was the man created for the woman; but the woman for the man.” (vv 7-9). 

In verse 7 the Word of God says that man is the image of God and is to reflect God’s glory. Man is the being that God has chosen to glorify Himself in public worship. Whether we understand this, or accept it or not, should be immaterial because this is what God’s Word states. God created woman to glorify Himself, by having her support the man in this same endeavor. It is not that the woman is of any less importance in God’s eyes, but that she has a different function than man in the purpose of glorifying God. Verse 11 tells us that man and woman are dependent on each other and together glorify God. Again, this is not speaking just about husband and wife.

“Nevertheless neither is the man without the woman, neither the woman without the man, in the Lord. For as the woman is of the man, even so is the man also by the woman; but all things of God.” (vv 11-12).

What do angels have to do with this?

“For this cause ought the woman to have power on her head because of the angels.” (v 10). 

We must always look at our walk on this earth with the primary purpose of glorifying God, and not attempting in any way to ascribe glory to ourselves. We are not to compete with God. We must recall that God created millions of angels to glorify Himself. Each angel has specific duties. There are different types of angels: cherubim, seraphim, destroyers. There are different orders of angels, and hence different levels of authority amongst the ranks of the angels.

“Who is gone into heaven, and is on the right hand of God; angels and authorities and powers being made subject unto him.” (I Peter 3:22).

The Scriptures speak about archangels, principalities, and powers. One prime function of angels is to give God glory.

“He that overcometh, the same shall be clothed in white raiment; and I will not blot out his name out of the book of life, but I will confess his name before my Father, and before his angels.” (Revelation 3:5).

“And all the angels stood round about the throne, and about the elders and the four beasts, and fell before the throne on their faces, and worshipped God, Saying, Amen: Blessing, and glory, and wisdom, and thanksgiving, and honour, and power, and might, be unto our God for ever and ever. Amen.” (Revelation 7:12).

“For I think that God hath set forth us the apostles last, as it were appointed to death: for we are made a spectacle unto the world, and to angels, and to men.” (I Corinthians 4:9).

The Apostle Paul was comparing the struggles of the Apostles with that of those that were taken captive and paraded before the world, much like the victorious Roman generals that would display the spoils of the victories before a home crowd. In this case, angels would also be gazing at the great sufferings of God’s people, who attributed their enduring strength and grace to God. Angles would then give God praise and glory as they stand amazed at God’s power in men, made possible only by man’s submission to God. Angels stand in awe of God’s plan of salvation and means for redemption of mankind.

“Unto whom it was revealed, that not unto themselves, but unto us they did minister the things, which are now reported unto you by them that have preached the gospel unto you with the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven; which things the angels desire to look into.” (I Peter 1:12).

“Likewise, I say unto you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth.” (Luke 15:10).

Angels are constantly observing God’s creation, specifically man, and more specifically redeemed man.

“Take heed that ye despise not one of these little ones; for I say unto you, That in heaven their angels do always behold the face of my Father which is in heaven.” (Matthew 18:10).

“Whosoever therefore shall be ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation; of him also shall the Son of man be ashamed, when he cometh in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.” (Mark 8:38).

“For whosoever shall be ashamed of me and of my words, of him shall the Son of man be ashamed, when he shall come in his own glory, and in his Father's, and of the holy angels.” (Luke 9:26).

The angels have always wanted to know about God’s marvelous ways, especially those of salvation, because an angel will never know what it means to be a redeemed, ransomed spiritual son of God. God gives them a taste of this by revealing it through the church, Christ’s body.

“And to make all men see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the world hath been hid in God, who created all things by Jesus Christ: To the intent that now unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places might be known by the church the manifold wisdom of God” (Ephesians 3:9-10).

Thus when angels behold the submission of the woman to the man, they give glory to God for that. They marvel at God’s power working in the lives of mankind as he turns to God in repentance and then continues to live a life in submission to His will. If man follows God of a willing heart he causes the angels in heaven, who know no insubordination, to rejoice and praise God for that joy. The church is to glorify God in this manner.

“According to the eternal purpose which he purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Ephesians 3:11).

“Unto him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end. Amen.” (Ephesians 3:21).

As a last statement on the headcovering, the Apostle Paul implies that this should be self-evident that the woman should be veiled or covered when praying.

“Judge in yourselves: is it comely that a woman pray unto God uncovered?” (v 13).

What the Apostle may have been referring to was the observed practice of the Jewish women who were worshipping God also with their heads covered. Although there were Jewish Christians in the Corinthian church, many Gentile converts should have realized that this was proper simply by observing the Jewish converts who continued to wear the veil during worship.

Her hair is given her for a covering?

“Doth not even nature itself teach you, that, if a man have long hair, it is a shame unto him? But if a woman have long hair, it is a glory to her: for her hair is given her for a covering.” (vv 14-15). 

What? Has the Apostle Paul changed his mind? Certainly not. He would not systematically expound universal truths about God and, using them as a base, lay down the proper decorum for public worship and then say, “I was just teasing you; the woman’s hair is really her headcovering.” The Apostle has just completed his teaching on the headcovering in verse 13, and has now changed the topic to the length of hair of the man and the woman. That is, up to and including verse 13, he states the order of submission in the church and the wearing of headcoverings by women and the not covering of the head for men. In verses 14 and 15, the Apostle is now focusing his attention on the length of hair for the man and woman. This, too, is of importance in the worship of God and how we reflect His glory.

One very essential difference in this verse is the Greek word used for covering in verse 15. This verse has perhaps caused the most confusion. The word used here is peribolaion, which literally means something thrown around one, i.e., a mantle, veil; but can be used as covering or vesture. That is, the type of covering described here is some form of decorative vesture or scarf that is cast around the woman’s head, as can be seen in eastern dress. The Apostle here is saying that the woman should have long hair because God has given it to her for an adornment (glory). Her long hair makes her more beautiful (her glory), much like the flower of a plant beautifies the plant.

“For all flesh is as grass, and all the glory of man as the flower of grass. The grass withereth, and the flower thereof falleth away” (I Peter 1:24).

On the other hand, the man ought to have short hair so as to differentiate him from the woman. The man is not to be effeminate; that is, not displaying characteristics that are regarded as typical of women (see Deuteronomy 22 and Romans 1).

Has the Apostle changed his mind again?

“But if any man seem to be contentious, we have no such custom, neither the churches of God.” (v 16). 

Again, for the same reason, the Apostle does not just sweep everything under the mat and say, “Look, if this is going to be a big problem for you, let’s just forget everything I have just said.” Here he says, “If anyone is a lover of strife (philoneikos), or wants to argue, we have no other practice, neither does any other church of God.” That is, when it comes to how the head is presented, this is the only acceptable way of worshipping God, here, and in any other church. This statement reinforces the fact that this teaching was not just for the Corinthian church, but for all other churches of God. The word used for “such” here is toioutos, which (according to Strong’s) means literally “truly this, i.e. of this sort (to denote character or individuality)”; and can be translated as “like, or such (an one)”. That is, there are no other variations of this decorum: it is unique. By the way, the NIV, NASB, and Amplified versions of the Bible all translate it this way.

Just as an illustration as how the same wording could be used today in the Apostolic Christian Church, let us look at water baptism. We all practice full immersion. Let’s say that somebody came along and wanted to change that practice by simply sprinkling the convert with water. If the Apostle Paul were here today he probably would have said, “If any man be contentious (has a problem with it), we have no such (other) custom (other than full immersion) — neither do the churches (any other) of God.”

When is the headcovering to be worn?

The Scripture is quite clear that it is during prayer and prophesying. 

What is praying? Here the word is proseuchomai, which literally means, “to pray to God, i.e. supplicate or worship”. I Thessalonians 5:17 says we should “pray without ceasing”.

What is prophesying? Three chapters later we find:

“But he that prophesieth speaketh unto men to edification, and exhortation, and comfort.” (I Corinthians 14:3).

Any time we are speaking spiritual things to edify, exhort, or comfort, we are considered to be prophesying.

Historical Perspective

Historical research encouragingly reveals that women in the early church, and in the centuries that followed, observed the Biblical teaching of wearing the headcovering when participating in prayer or public worship. Clement of Alexandria (150-220 AD) was an ardent advocate of this practice. He said, “For this is the wish of the Word since it is becoming for her to pray veiled.” He based his conviction on God’s Word. 

It is also interesting that the art of the ancient church, as preserved in the Roman catacombs, depicts praying women as wearing the palla, a veil or scarf on the head which hung down over her shoulders. Note that this was in Rome also, not just in Corinth. As late as the Tenth Century AD, there is a drawing of a worshipping group of believers: the men’s heads are uncovered, and the women’s heads are covered with veils. In Rembrandt’s painting of “Preacher Anslo Giving Comfort to Women”, it shows the women’s heads covered with a gauze veil.


King James Authorized Version of the Bible
Prayer Veil, Apostolic Christian Publications
Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible